Why working is good for you
Being busy could be key to good health
AMID the hustle and bustle of our super-connected 21st century, we all dream of an easy life of leisure.
But often that dream just keeps receding from our grasp.
Only last month, the British government announced that it will raise the pension age from 65 to 68 in 2037 rather than 2044. Six million men and women, aged between 39 and 47, will just have to wait for their gold watch.
Meanwhile, smartphones and social media mean we’re never really “switched off ”. It sounds like a recipe for constant harmful stress – as we’re often being warned.
But a wealth of emerging medical research reveals that having plenty to do may be the key to good health. Staying busy, it seems, helps us to live longer, keeps us strong, fosters sparky brains and could even keep dementia at bay.
Recently, American researchers revealed we even sleep better when we have lots of reasons to jump out of bed in the morning. Neurologists at North-western University in Chicago reported that people who are busily purposeful – in particular having a packed agenda of future plans – enjoy better sleep and are less troubled by insomnia.
And last year, psychologists at the University of Texas reported that keeping busy is associated with a battery of brain benefits. They asked more than 300 adults how frequently they have too many tasks to complete during the day. The investigators concluded that the busier people are the stronger their mental powers.
This was true of short and long-term memory, ability to use logic, and “crystallised intelligence” – the ability to put a lifetime’s skills and knowledge into practical use.
The research, published last year in Frontiers in Ageing Neuroscience, added that busyness had a bolstering effect on brain power.
Sara Festini, the lead author of the study, suggests that busyness gives us more opportunities to learn. This keeps our cognitive faculties stimulated and challenged, which may boost “neuroplasticity” – the ability of the adult brain to rewire itself to learn new skills.
But Dr Festini recognises that there are two types of busy: good and bad – and the bad type can harm our brains.
“Stress has been shown to narrow attention, impair memory and interfere with knowledge acquisition,” she says.
The crucial factor in determining whether our busyness is stressful or beneficial is whether we feel that we have control over what we are doing, explains Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist. “Having to be busy when you have no control over workload can cause stress and potentially harmful chronic rises in the stress hormone cortisol,” she says.
Chronically high stress hormone levels are associated with anxiety, depression and impaired memory and concentration. They can cause physical inflammation, which may precipitate illness such as cardiovascular disease.
It is easy for people to tell if they are “good” busy, she adds. “It will be easy to switch off from work, you will have energy for your other interests and you sleep well.” The difference between good and bad busyness can come down to a matter of mental approach.
Keeping busy as we age appears to be particularly beneficial – even if it means working beyond retirement age.
Working for even one year beyond the retirement age can reduce your odds of later dying prematurely by more than 10%, according to a 2016 study by Oregon State University.
One important reason for this may be that late retirement delays the onset of dementia.
Beyond this, there may be another benefit. “Being busy means that you don’t have time to sit and think about how unfair life is,” says Dr Jane Prince, a psychologist at the University of South Wales. “Busyness directs your attention away from your aches and pains.”
Dr Prince suggests that it doesn’t matter what you are doing but the key is routine. “Routines help you to get a sense of identity,” she says.
So, while keeping busy looks to be essential for our health, it seems that what you choose to do is no one’s busyness but your own. – Daily Mail
Keeping busy at work can improve sleep and wards off dementia.